Tuesday, November 14, 2017

New Cali Home

About two weeks ago I moved out of my mom's house (temporary home base for the last 18 months) and into a new apartment with my partner. I'm so relieved to have found a place that is safe, decent, near public transportation, and - major bonus - full of natural light and high ceilings. Truly a gem in the middle of a lot of crappy options. I am still pinching myself that 1) this place exists, and 2) we got it!!!

The housing situation in the Bay Area is competitive, restrictive, and depressing to say the least. It is SO EXPENSIVE and honestly what you get for your money is pitiful in most cases. Here's a sampling of some of the places we looked at in our search:

Apartment 1: Located in the Outer Richmond in San Francisco (read: cold and foggy and not on the BART line, so one of the more "affordable" places in the city). $2,200/month for a studio consisting of a converted garage with one tiny window, a tiny bathroom, a double burner hotplate and a mini-fridge "kitchen", and a murphy bed that pulled down from the wall. Nope!

Apartment 2: Located one block away from Lake Merritt in Oakland, seemingly a great spot but this is an area where the neighborhood can vary vastly from one corner to the next. This was on one bad corner that's for sure! I understand why there were no photos of the outside of the place on Craigslist. As we approached there was a lady in panties and a fishnet top with her boobs hanging out walking into the liquor store on the bottom floor of the building. Across the street was a parking lot full of dudes loitering and heaps of trash. After a few minutes the lady came out of the liquor store and plopped down on her mattress on the opposite corner of the street, put on some headphones, and started smoking a joint. Next to the liquor store was an establishment that was operational, had a street number, but all the windows were blacked out and there was no identifying sign of what was going on in there. Not good. The inside of the unit had been completely remodeled and that, plus the fact that my partner's school is nearby and I often run at the lake, is what had attracted us initially. We never even made it inside, sending a polite email to the listing agent saying it just wasn't the right spot for us. Cost? $2,000/month for a 2 bedroom (600 square feet). Right...

Apartment 3: Located in El Cerrito, adjacent to highway 80. $1,950/month for a 2 bedroom plus one month free rent if you signed a 16-month lease. Totally new interior, new appliances, looked really lovely...but surely there must be a catch at that price, and why on earth would anybody offer a signing bonus here in the landlord's paradise?? Sure, the place was right next to the freeway's sound barrier wall, and the neighborhood was older and pretty humble, but what could be the issue? All the bars on the windows of every house around? Maybe... The neighbor's yard full of pit bulls and rottweilers and neglected looking poodles, all on short chains, aggressively barking nonstop? Who knows. There were about 8 other couples waiting to see the place, and for us the paranoia that something was fundamentally wrong to offer the place at that price was too much. Next!

Thankfully, by some great Craigslist miracle, we stumbled across our current place and managed to make a deposit and get in an application before they could show it to anyone else. You have to act fast here, that's for sure. I feel much like I did back in Maputo, where we had an excellent apartment at a price that we were afraid to disclose less someone show up at the landlord's door and make a higher offer. At least here in California there are binding leases and what not, although I shudder to think what will happen when it comes time to renew and most certainly the amount will be adjusted up according to "current market value".

There's a high price to pay to live in the Bay Area, and it's only getting harder. I've definitely thought about moving somewhere else over the last 18 months, and even did some (fruitless) job applications in places as diverse as Houston, Chicago, and Washington DC. But seemingly it's in the cards to be here for the near future, which makes me happy, as this Cali life is pretty incredible and I'm excited for this new chapter to kick off in our new apartment.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

More Endings and More Beginnings

It's been a year since I last wrote here. Often I've had the urge to come back and chronicle what's been going on in my life, but while this is my favorite space for writing, it also felt strange. Outdated. Too connected with people and places who are no longer in my life and, honestly, a reflection of a self that I no longer am. I suppose that's inevitable when you blog for over a decade, but my goodness the changes have been massive. New continent, new school, new profession, divorce, passing of loved ones, new relationships, new homes, new beginnings. It's been so much.

For a while I was decided that I would start a new blog for this new chapter, but I never found a format or space or whatever that seemed right. I like writing here, and I like all of you who follow(ed) me here, and so I've come to peace with the idea that yes, my past is present, but my present can be as well. 

So where to start? This time last year I'd just come back from a month of traveling. Geographic distance from Casa Cali, as well as the constant stimulus of new landscapes and languages and people, allowed me to feel like my old self again. The traveler, nomad, extrovert, adventurer. It also helped me begin to glimpse my new self, who I would become after all the transitioning, questioning, grief and growth.

Back in the Bay Area, life delivered up one of those sublime coincidences (that aren't coincidences at all, really) and I met a very lovely person who has become my partner in life and in love. I certainly wasn't "looking," but when you find treasure you most absolutely open your heart and say yes. I would like to write volumes about this person, about our adventures and insights together, but I must say that I have come to value privacy immensely and so choose not to. But know that I'm happy and, true to my Libra nature, am in a pair and feel at balance.

Over the past year I have really reconnected with my roots on my mom's side, and spent a lot of time along the Italy-Slovenia border where my family has had a home for centuries. I recovered my ability to speak Italian (it's full of mistakes but I don't really care, I'm just happy that it's present and functional!). I made many local friends and danced salsa and kizomba till the wee hours (funny how there's such a passion for Latin/African dances in that part of the world). Together with friends and family, we did a bunch of work on the house my grandmother used to live in, trying to get it fixed up and ready for who-knows-what next incarnation. Retreats, a place for wellness and healing, wine tourism...there are so many attributes and possibilities. But for now, as they say in Italian, piano, piano. Take it slow. For a while there many people were asking if I'd moved to Italy. It was/is definitely in my mind, but I'm letting life lead me there at its own pace. Although I am applying for Italian citizenship - it will take two years, and just getting together the necessary documents has been a fascinating process. Stories for another day, however...

Last month I was back in Italy and we had a memorial ceremony for my grandmother, who passed away last year in California. It was quite the event. My family was there from the US, the whole village turned up, we had two choirs sing, and everyone came to the house afterwards for prosciutto and pastries and wine. Truly the closing of one gigantic chapter and the opening of the next. I want to write about the whole funeral organizing experience, as it was priceless. Talking in limited Italian about opening graves and preparing floral wreaths, and trying to figure out catering, and getting the priest booked, etc. etc. etc. Truly memorable, I swear many of the people and situations seemed straight out of a film. Too good (and sometimes too bad!) to be true.

Now back in California I continue to make jewelry, my focus these days is on heirloom redesign and memory projects. I've also been working as a medical interpreter (Portuguese and Spanish), which is interesting and a good counterpart to my studio practice. Always the Jill of a thousand trades it seems. :)

I suppose what really moved me to write here again is the sad news that Pria passed away three days ago (the cats are still at Casa Cali with Ricardo and his new wife). I got the call that Pria had collapsed and was at the emergency vet, and that it didn't look good. Apparently he had cancer all throughout his body. I'm grateful that he didn't suffer long, and I know he was in good care. Still it is so incredibly sad. I feel lucky that my last memories of Pria are of days when he was happy and heathy and purring in my lap. I miss him. I'd been missing him all year. Losing our animal companions is terrible, but boy did he give us years of funny stories and fond memories. I hope he's living it up on the other side of the rainbow bridge with his brother, Parceiro.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

The Quiet Moments

I a home in California after nearly a month traveling. My itinerary included New Mexico (Valencia County and Albuquerque), Texas (Houston and Austin), and Mexico (Playa del Carmen and Tulum). The trip was filled with moments of excitement and energy, but also lots of quiet time. I so appreciate my solo reflective time while on the road. It's what gives me perspective on my life "at home" and allows me to reconnect with my internal North. Here are some visual captures of some of those contemplative moments:

While on the road I turned 35. This blazing sunset was taken on the eve of my last day being 34. I was in the parking lot of Bodyshock Fitness, a gym in Los Lunas I discovered on this trip that was my salvation while in New Mexico. After a particularly hard workout, I was rewarded with this fiery sky. I thought about the past year and all the change it has brought for me, the wild ride my heart and body have endured, and what I want from the next cycle - be it a day, a year, or a decade.

This snapshot was taken at sunrise on my 35th birthday, taken from the ditch road that runs behind my dad's house. I was feeling very proud of myself, as I'd managed to go to a 5:30am body combat class to start my day off right, an intense bout of movement before getting on a plane and heading to Houston later that day. I could hear the soft sound of water flowing through the irrigation ditch some doves cooing in the distance. I kept my ears and eyes alert for signs of sandhill cranes (they migrate to New Mexico every fall, often arriving on the day of my birthday) but didn't hear/see any although I knew they were out there somewhere.

As part of the Texas leg of my trip, I decided to drive to Austin for a night and experience the last place I called home prior to moving to Mozambique. I haven't been back since I left in 2005. I decided to visit the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and journal for a bit amid the greenery and bronze figures. It was hot and humid, but the scenery was so perfect for reflection that I found a bench in the shade and wrote for about an hour, trying to ignore the sweat dripping down my legs. What a strange experience to revisit Austin after 11.5 years. So much has happened in that time, yet in many ways it feels I'm back in the same psychological place I was in when I left Texas and headed to Africa. The end of one major chapter and the start of another, tumultuous at times but full of promise and adventure.

In the Mexico leg of my trip, I enjoyed reflective time while swimming in cenotes (freshwater swimming holes that dot the Yucatan Peninsula and were considered sacred by the Mayans). This one pictured here is Cenote Azul. The water was clear and refreshing, and the jungle scenery all around made it feel like the garden of Eden. Swimming here felt like hitting the reset button on my life, which may be a bit dramatic but it really did seem that way in the moment.

Finally here is a moment from the women's wellness retreat that brought me to Tulum. We did a clay treatment and then went into the ocean to wash it off. I am the person on the far right. This was the start to me swimming far out into the water, what I wrote about in my previous post. I felt very calm here, at ease with myself and my surroundings.

My hope is that I can carry these feelings from my trip into my California life, especially as I gear up for the busy holiday season with my jewelry work, and continue to navigate the up's and down's of my personal life transition. Starting my day today with blogging was a good way to reconnect and reflect, for sure.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Tulum Reflections

Today I swam into the ocean, going further out than I ever have before. I used to be afraid of the water, afraid of the waves, afraid of being at the mercy of a force so much greater than my own strength. Previously I refused to get in the deep water unless I had a companion to cling to. But today I was at ease. The water was warm and clear, and I let myself drift out beyond the breakers. I made sure to periodically check if I was being dragged further out to sea or if there was a lateral riptide, using a large rock outcropping and the distant view of our beachfront hotel as landmarks. To my relief I seemed to have found a spot without a strong current and I stayed more or less stationary. I felt calm, treading water and occasionally submerging my head under the swells. With each dive I would invent a mantra: This is for letting go of the past. This is for embracing the future. This is for being in the present moment. This is for all the loss I have endured. This is for all the love that is yet to come.

I am in Tulum, Mexico right now. I came here with a group of women that I know from Hipline, the dance studio I go to in Oakland. We are on a wellness retreat that involves dancing and strength training and journaling and relaxing. I have been on the road for about three weeks already, and this comes as a welcome opportunity to slow down and reconnect with myself. I am grateful that the format of this retreat is opt-in/opt-out, that each participant is invited to do exactly that which feels right at the moment, nothing more and nothing less. Letting go of the should's of life and instead seeking out what we want, what we need. I have been opting out a lot, foregoing dance class in favor of solitary beach walks. Relaxing in the hammock. Reading Solo Africa, an account of a filmmaker's journey across the Sahara, Sahel and Congo in the late 1980's. Observing the ocean. Drinking mezcal cocktails. Reflecting on the past three weeks I have been traveling, on this year of transition, on my life of habitually moving from one place to another.

I feel compelled to travel, if for no other reason than it brings out my very best self. The person that is aware that moments are fleeting and change is the only constant. The person that is up for spontaneous adventures and road trips and solo yolo salsa dancing under the stars. The person that says yes to what feels right and is unafraid to take risks. The person that had no regrets. The person that cliff jumps and goes skinny dipping and takes long-distance buses and makes friends in an instant over a shared smile and a familiar song.

I don't want to veer away from this path. I don't want to sacrifice this feeling of freedom and endless possibility. I am aware it is a privilege to be able to travel and be self-employed. I hope to do it justice. I hope to move forward with courage. To get in the ocean and swim beyond where it seems reasonable and realize that I am safe there, that I am at ease in the world, that everything is as it is meant to be.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Valencia County Observations

I'm in New Mexico for a week, enjoying some time observing life in the place where I grew up. Here are some of the moments that have stood out to me about Los Lunas and Valencia County, the place where my dad calls home:

This is a rural area about an hour south of Albuquerque. The scenery is serene and classically New Mexican: wide open fields of hay and corn, grandiose cottonwoods whose leaves have started turning yellow with the changing seasons, chile roasting on street corners, and dusty mountains in the distance. In the middle of this all runs the Rio Grande, currently a small trickle because so much water has been diverted into the irrigation ditches that criss-cross the landscape. The people here are connected to the land, to family, to tradition.

Driving around I am struck by the billboards along Highway 47, which fall into a few main themes:

- DWI (You can't afford it!)
- Anti Domestic Abuse (Elders and children are our heritage, our future!)
- Pro-Life propaganda (My heart beats 18 days after conception!)
- Personal Injury Lawyers
- Military Recruitment
- Indian Casinos

Tells you a lot about the problems people face and the values they hold...

As I write this I am sitting in a café in Los Lunas (the main town around these parts) that is part coffee shop, part Christian bookstore / religious supplies, and part guitar store. It is the closest wifi to my dad's house (he has no internet and my cell signal is practically nonexistent) so if I want to check email or blog or do some work, I come here.

Culture shock is an understatement. Not only is there all the religious paraphernalia and "church people" vibe from the staff and patrons, there is the political aspect. The people here like their guns. Next to the coffee creamer is an advertisement for Concealed Carry Training. I just overheard someone talk about how Obama was the best thing ever for gun and ammo sales, that they skyrocketed because of him. Another table over there is a guy loudly voicing his support for Trump and calling Bernie Sanders supporters "sheeple" for now supporting Hilary. He's all about the government conspiracies, too, talking about 9/11 being an inside job and how he just bought a $2,000 end-of-the-world survival kit because shit is going to go down.

The scary part to me is that everyone who walks in and overhears these conversations in progress jumps in and is in agreement! Guns and Trump and anti-Obama and God are the anthem over here! It makes me reconsider where I am spending my $7 for coffee and a breakfast burrito, but then again there's no guarantee that the owner of Starbucks on the far side of town (the other wifi option) is not cut from the same cloth, even though the corporate aspect of the place might suggest neutrality.

I don't identify with Valencia County as being home (I lived with my mom in Albuquerque from ages 5 to 15), but my dad has always been here so it is familiar and full of memories. Since my mom moved to California over a decade ago, my dad's house is now my base when I come to New Mexico. While I appreciate the hospitality he and his wife extend to me, I am struck by how anthropological these visits feel. I am definitely an outsider, observing "the other," gaining heightened perception of my own views and values as a result of the contrasts.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

My Dance Story

All I want to do lately is dance salsa, bachata and kizomba. It's definitely been my remedy these past several months, the activity that has allowed me to find myself and connect with others amid great transition in my life. 

There is something uniquely special about partner dancing. You are given the opportunity to connect physically and energetically with another person (often a complete stranger). You have to relax into each other and find a common language of movement and flow. It's spontaneous and intuitive, expressive and intimate. It is an exercise in trust and vulnerability and being in the moment. And at its best, dancing feels like falling in love - a euphoric suspension of space and time, where all that exist are you and this other person moving together through the world.

I first danced salsa when I was in college in Albuquerque. We would have these glorious house parties attended by friends from all corners of Latin America. Someone would throw on a mix cd and we'd all dance into the wee hours of the morning. I didn't exactly know what I was doing, but it was always a damn good time.

Then I got a boyfriend who didn't enjoy dancing. He was also a jealous type, so I shifted from partner dancing to taking cardio-salsa classes at the gym. I got in shape and met many incredible women in the process, but didn't really register that I had abandoned something that sparked great joy for me.

In the time between college and now, I had the strange luck become involved almost exclusively with people that weren't into dancing. Rather than push someone to take up an activity they found akin to pulling teeth, I dove deep into the world of solo dance to satisfy my passion. I discovered Nia in Austin, did samba de passarela in Brazil, learned all sorts of fun moves in Mozambique, and eventually found my home crew of ladies at Hipline in Oakland. Dance has been a constant in my life, but moving your body solo (albeit in a room full of other people) is a different animal from dancing with another person.

It took me fifteen years to return to partner dancing. Fifteen years!!! Better late than never, though, right? Actually I returned somewhat by chance. At the beginning of this year, as I was planning a trip to Gorizia, the small city in northeastern Italy where my maternal grandmother was from, I had a strong desire to do something different, to meet new people. I've been visiting this place of my roots since I was a child, but always the trips were centered around my grandmother: who she knew, who she wanted to visit, how she wanted to spend her time. I have some childhood friends in the area who I enjoy spending time with, but I really wanted to break out of my family's circle of influence and find an expanded social scene.

I randomly googled "zumba Gorizia" thinking I'd find a gym with some cardio dance classes. I came across Arte Dance Studio and messaged them to see if I could take a bunch of different classes for the two weeks I'd be in town. They were super receptive to my request and welcomed me with open arms. I took zumba, modern dance, pilates, piloxing, and something called Latino Base. I showed up to the latter imagining a class akin to zumba; instead I found myself smack in the middle of a salsa and bachata dance course with no partner, no knowledge of the moves everyone had been practicing for the past several weeks, and sweaty palms.

It didn't matter. The instructors Marco and his wife Mikki welcomed me with open arms. They allowed me to jump right in and made me feel like part of the group despite my language and dance limitations. With them I was introduced to cuban-style salsa and moves like dile que no, enchufla, setenta, and all manner of variations on the vuelta (turn). Classes were a funny mix of Italian and Spanish, with students a mix of Italians and Slovenes. I felt as if I'd finally found my people.

About a month after that experience, I found myself in Playa del Carmen, Mexico with my best friend Angel. We were looking for a spot to grab a bite to eat and go dance, and a local friend recommended La Bodeguita del Medio, a Cuban restaurant that has apparently franchised in other locations (I went to the original location in La Habana with my mom back in 2000). It was pretty quiet when Angel and I arrived, but there was a live band with salsa music and I ended up dancing with our server for much of the evening (I guess dancing is part of the job description?). I had tons of fun, and vowed to find some lessons and keep dancing upon my return to the Bay Area.

The first time I went to Allegro, a dance school in Emeryville, was with Rico's mom. Sort of strange to go to a dance social with your ex-mother-in-law, but we are friends and enjoy hanging out, and she was interested in taking a salsa class. So we hit the beginner lesson, then I stayed for the intermediate one and the open dance afterwards. Honestly it wasn't the best experience - I got stuck dancing with a creepy, overly-touchy dude and sadly was not practiced at setting boundaries or making the great escape after one dance - but live and learn, right?

Despite the slight trauma, I knew I'd be back, and this has been my go-to place for dancing for the last five months. I've gone way up the learning curve in salsa, and added bachata and kizomba to my repertoire. Actually kizomba has become my favorite - it's a dance originally from Angola that is slow, sensual, and deceptively simple. You basically embrace your partner, with chests and belly buttons touching (no contact below the belt, though!), and then proceed to "walk" in very close proximity to different rhythms. There is no clear pattern to the steps, which makes it impossible to predict what's next - and therefore as a follower it is impossible to back-lead.

That's one of my main objectives in dance, actually: to be a good follower. It means relaxing, connecting with your partner, and not anticipating or forcing any of the moves according to your own agenda. Harder than it sounds, especially after so many years of dancing by myself. It's quite different from the ultra-independent role I have in my "regular" life, and the balance and lessons to be gained are not lost on me.

My 35th birthday is in a couple weeks and as a gift to myself, I got private lessons with Isabel, one of the instructors from Allegro. I want to be sure I have good habits and know my basic footwork before proceeding much further down this dance path. Much better to build on a solid foundation as opposed to one that is flawed.

I have plans to dance salsa and kizomba in Albuquerque, Houston, and Mexico this coming month as I embark on yet another travel adventure. Here's to meeting more lovely people and learning some new moves. See y'all on the dance floor!

Monday, September 05, 2016

Lines and Curves

Lines and curves, about to get on a plane. Headed to Italy but Niemeyer on the brain. //

Linhas e curvas, indo pegar um avião. Rumo à Itália mas com Niemeyer na cabeça.


It has been such a long time since I wrote a poem. My dad is an incredible poet. I found that out a few months ago.

Now, apparently, the inspiration has passed through to me. In a rhyme, which typically I hate. But I was thinking of poetry after a particularly time-warp evening of dancing, and then upon seeing my reflection with the piano and multiple doors and books, the words came to me.

I am traveling later today, to Italy, with my mom. We will be working on my grandma's house and affairs. And I will dance! More soon.